BRANSON, Mo. — A road in his hometown of Dyess, Ark., has been named after Gene Williams at the same time the community named a highway after the late Johnny Cash, another Dyess native. Dyess Mayor Larry F. Sims was in Branson, Mo., to present souvenir road signs to Williams at a recent taping of Williams’ television show, the Lucas Oil sponsored “Gene Williams Country Television Show” that takes Branson to more than 50 million homes nationwide and in Puerto Rico and Canada.
The show with the road signs presentation and featuring music guests, The Sweethearts of Branson: Denny Yeary and Shelia Renee, will be telecast on June 21 and 22.
The signs were accompanied by two resolutions signed by Sims and a letter signed by Mississippi County Judge Steve McGuire supporting the name changes. The section of East Second Street/West County Road 940 from Arkansas State Highway 297 to Mississippi Country Road 243 was renamed Gene Williams Road and the section of Arkansas Sate Highway 297 located from Arkansas State Highway 14 to Mississippi County Road 956 was renamed Johnny Cash Highway.
Calling Williams a “country music television icon” and “a legend in his own time” and Cash a “country music legend” and “one of the world’s greatest country music performers of all time” both resolutions noted that the two spent their childhood and teenage years in Dyess. The city “desires to permanently honor” the men “in an appropriate manner,” the resolutions said.
McGuire echoed the resolutions and wrote, “Gene Williams…has been a strong supporter of Historic Dyess. His affiliation with Johnny Cash has contributed to the continuation of much worldwide interest in the city of Dyess for which we are very grateful. Thank you for your physical and financial support to enhance the quality of life for all of our citizens.”
This is the third honor Williams’ hometown has given him. In 2007 he was presented the key to the city and two years earlier a “Hometown of…” sign was erected on the edge of town. Williams has worked on several projects to help preserve his hometown’s history. They include presenting a fund raising concert with Mickey Gilley and the Urban Cowboy Band and making a donation to save a historical building that will be used for a museum recognizing the city’s historical significance and its former residents, Johnny Cash, Tommy Cash and Williams.
Dyess is not the only Arkansas community that has recognized Williams. He recently received the key to the City of Horseshoe Bend, Ark., for his work to bring significant country entertainment to the resort community during its early development and April 11, 2009, will be celebrated as Gene Williams Day.
Williams holds a record in Arkansas of having nine days proclaimed Gene Williams Day (1964 Orval Faubus, 1968 Win Rockefeller, 1973 and 1974 Dale Bumpers – former President Bill Clinton proclaimed Gene Williams Day three times, Jim Guy Tucker once, and Mike Huckabee, once.) Williams was recognized for his community commitment to the industry and presented an honorary doctorate degree in television and broadcast communications from St. Martins College. He has also been honored by the states of Arkansas and Missouri for his work in tourism, entertainment and community.
Nominated for induction into two halls of fame, the Branson Entertainment Hall of Fame Museum and the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame, Williams was named Grand Ole Opry DJ of the Year in 1961 and inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 1993. In addition to Cash, he has worked with such greats as the Carter Family, the Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins, Charlie Walker, Charlie Louvin, Del Reeves, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Minnie Pearl and Jack Greene. He made two movies: “Country Music Jamboree” filmed in Parkin, Ark., and the “Sound of Country Music” that starred more than 39 Grand Ole Opry stars.
Williams recently put his name on a Branson theater in which the “Gene Williams Country Television Show” is presented. The Gene Williams Showcase Theatre is located in the Branson Mall on the world famous Highway 76. The Yearys, who are the celebrity guests on the TV show this week, present a 2 p.m. show at the theater Monday through Thursday. “Jeff Sallee’s Classic Country Revue” with a tribute to Buck Owens is presented at 8 p.m. through Aug. 30 and 5 p.m. Sept. 2-Dec. 20. “Lookin’ for Love” Johnny Lee is making music history by presenting his own show beginning Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. at the theater.
Williams began his country music television show in Arkansas 45 years ago and for the past seven years has taped the show in Branson live before a studio audience. Television guests have included Doug Kershaw, Ed McMahon, Mickey Gilley, the Oak Ridge Boys, Roy Clark, Barbara Fairchild, Sons of the Pioneers, the Osmonds, Johnny Cash’s band The Tennessee Three, Helen Cornelius, Leona Williams, Charlie Louvin, Mary Lou Turner, Cal Smith, Stonewall Jackson, Norma Jean, Little Jimmy Dickens, Porter Wagoner, Jim Owen, Buck Trent, Johnny Lee and Wanda Jackson.
Williams’ co-host Katie Lynn has received the Branson Entertainment Awards Best Support Vocalist twice for her work in the “Mickey Gilley Show.” She has worked with Gilley for more than eight years and also worked with Jim Owen for seven years. In addition to her singing career, she is a real estate agent. She and the guest stars perform weekly on the television show with the Country Junction Band.
For more information go to the website genewilliamscountry.com or call the box office at the Gene Williams Theatre in Branson at 417-335-4400. Advance tickets are on sale at the box office for Johnny Lee’s show and for any of the shows Williams is now showcasing.